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When I was a little girl, I would sit on my grandma’s lap. We would look out the window and take in the clear-blue skies. We’d play the game of pointing out pictures in the occasional white, fluffy clouds.

Aliso Canyon Methane Leak

What's Gas Got to Do With It?—Rosemary Jenkins

Then we would check out the birds, watch them fly around, land on telephone lines, nest in trees, drink from bird fountains. We’d love to spend part of every afternoon, dreamily doing that.

Now, as a grandma myself, my two little grandsons often sit with me and similarly become engrossed in happy, creative, exciting reflections on that same sky and the birds.

People in the northern San Fernando Valley are beginning to report on birds that have fallen to the ground—dead from the fumes they can’t see but are lethal for them anyway.

But there is a difference today. The sky is being suffocated with invisible, poisonous gases. My younger grandson can’t come for a simple visit without getting so congested, he can hardly breathe.

All three of us look for birds. But where are they? At first I concluded, The birdies must have headed to warmer climes. Yet, inscrutably, we would see the occasional bird and wonder, If those few are here, where are the others?

The answer seems all too tragic. People in the northern San Fernando Valley are beginning to report on birds that have fallen to the ground—dead from the fumes they can’t see but are lethal for them anyway. There is no nesting. No birds are chanting back and forth. Will the birds ever come back? Will they brighten our lives again? Will they trust us enough to decide to return?

Last Saturday, I attended another AQMD hearing where the larger banquet hall was filled nearly to capacity. There were public comments from those who had not spoken before. And there was testimony by experts.

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The question and answer period between the panel and the representatives of SoCalGas was particularly disappointing because the answers were vague. The “expert” brought in to speak on behalf of the Gas Company was so unprepared, it was embarrassing. He would haltingly claim ignorance to basic questions requiring basic answers. These were the same questions he had been asked at a previous hearing where he was also unprepared and thus promised to be able to provide at this hearing the responses requested by the five panelists--he had had more than enough time to prepare for the panel’s queries but was still not ready.

When all was said and done, the panel voted 4-1 on its ruling (with the force of law behind it). We heard the expected conclusion: Well SS 25, the one leaking billions of cubic feet of natural gas, would be shut down permanently. Hooray!! But there was still frustration.

The remainder of the gas reservoirs would remain in operation. Because the field in question provides 80% to 90% of natural gas for heating cooking, and bathing (which is needed by our very dependent Los Angeles population—21 million consumers), shutting down the entire operation, which the community has been demanding, was considered neither feasible nor pragmatic.

No alternatives were ever offered that would have brought peace of mind to the suffering victims. Such relief would only happen if the entire operation were permanently terminated. As a result, the demonstrators fear that there is an even greater catastrophe waiting to happen if the closure is not ordered.

It cannot be ignored that there are 114 additional wells operating in the Aliso Canyon location—many of which are already leaking and are constructed of materials that are old and unstable. And yet when interviewed by a local reporter, Dennis Arriola, President CEO of SoCalGas, smugly answered that the whole health and safety issue has been overblown and exaggerated and at the very least of short-term consequences. Why can he give himself permission to shrug this off?! The audacity!!

Tell that to the thousands of people with significant health issues—nose bleeds, rashes, migraines, vomiting, dizziness (one woman blacked out while driving and was injured, who luckily, though in substantial pain, still has her life). Many have been relocated—often moving repeatedly from one place to another depending on lodging availability.

I recall the poignant Holocaust book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. I hope that that observation does not apply to our feathered friends. Should they return in the numbers and variety that once populated our community, we can take that as a sign that better times are returning. In the meantime, these birds are like those in the coal mine. It is for us, then, to continue to demand, from all the powers that be, that more must be achieved now in order to heal the damage that has been done and to prevent similar calamities from happening again.

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Rosemary Jenkins